Polychlorinated Biphenyls Disrupt Intestinal Integrity via NADPH Oxidase-Induced Alterations of Tight Junction Protein Expression

Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Jul;118(7):976-81. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901751. Epub 2010 Mar 18.


Background: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are widely distributed environmental toxicants that contribute to numerous disease states. The main route of exposure to PCBs is through the gastrointestinal tract; however, little is known about the effects of PCBs on intestinal epithelial barrier functions.

Objective: The aim of the present study was to address the hypothesis that highly chlorinated PCBs can disrupt gut integrity at the level of tight junction (TJ) proteins.

Methods: Caco-2 human colon adenocarcinoma cells were exposed to one of the following PCB congeners: PCB153, PCB118, PCB104, and PCB126. We then assessed NAD(P)H oxidase (NOX) activity and expression and the barrier function of Caco-2 cells. In addition, the integrity of intestinal barrier function and expression of TJ proteins were evaluated in C57BL/6 mice exposed to individual PCBs by oral gavage.

Results: Exposure of Caco-2 cells to individual PCB congeners resulted in activation of NOX and increased permeability of fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-labeled dextran (4 kDa). Treatment with PCB congeners also disrupted expression of TJ proteins zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) and occludin in Caco-2 cells. Importantly, inhibition of NOX by apocynin significantly protected against PCB-mediated increase in epithelial permeability and alterations of ZO-1 protein expression. Exposure to PCBs also resulted in alterations of gut permeability via decreased expression of TJ proteins in an intact physiological animal model.

Conclusions: These results suggest that oral exposure to highly chlorinated PCBs disrupts intestinal epithelial integrity and may directly contribute to the systemic effects of these toxicants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • NADPH Oxidases / metabolism*
  • Occludin
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Tight Junctions / drug effects*
  • Zonula Occludens-1 Protein


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Membrane Proteins
  • OCLN protein, human
  • Occludin
  • Ocln protein, mouse
  • Phosphoproteins
  • TJP1 protein, human
  • Tjp1 protein, mouse
  • Zonula Occludens-1 Protein
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • NADPH Oxidases